The King’s Highway, A Metaphor

I was wondering about something related to the attempt to travel on the Derekh haMelekh through Edom.

Derekh haMelekh is the name of an actual highway of the time. But it sounds much like a reference to the core mitzvah of “וְהָלַכְתָּ֖ בִּדְרָכָֽיו – and you shall go in His Ways” (Devarim 28:9). The Rambam (Hilkhos Dei’os 1:5-6) explains this verse in terms of the obligation to imitate the Middos we see in His actions. (But see Shabbos 133b, where Abba Shaul finds the source elsewhere.) “Just as He is called ‘Gracious’, you too should be gracious. Just as He is called ‘Compassionate’, you too should be compassionate….”

So I was thinking, what would it mean if we took this metaphorically. What would it mean to take a subtext of how the Torah describes this event as a message about Edom preventing us from taking the King’s route, from emulating Him?

What does Edom mean in midrashic symbology? There are many correct answers. Here’s one from the Maharasha that I’ve looked at on this blog and in Mesukim Midevash for Parashas Pinechas before.

The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuq. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.” This pains the moon, and Hashem subsequently offers three consolations. When that fails, Hashem says that we are to bring a qorban to atone for His sin.

The Maharsha explains that the moon symbolizes the Jewish people who appear small in this world. The midrash is a discussion about the need for Israel to be oppressed in this world, so that they may shine brighter in the next.

He identifies the sa’ir, the he-goat of the Rosh Chodesh chatas offering, with Rome the children of Ya’akov’s brother Esav. The connection between the goat and Rome is that both the word “sa’ir” and Rome’s ancestor’s name “Esav”, indicates hairiness. Surely of all of the nations of the world, history is dominated by Rome and the western civilization it spawned. And, like the moon, Israel’s fortunes rise, fall and rise again under its shadow.

Aside from the difference in ascendancy between Israel and non-Jews, there is a more obvious difference between this world and the next. Only in this world is there a physical existence.

The moon’s complaint about two rulers sharing the same crown is an observation about human nature. Man This is actually taken out of context Yitzchak was describing his perplexity trying to identify Ya’akov who was disguised to feel like his brother. There is ample precedent to indicate that this second meaning is also intended by the verse. is incapable of having two primary goals. Each person most choose between tum’ah and becoming a slave to his body or taharah and purposeful existence.

G-d diminishes the moon. This seems like a mistake. Is the proper response to this problem to give the Israel principle the lower hand, to place man in a universe where the physical seems to reign supreme? To which G-d replies that even in the midst of the physical world, the higher man is what truly reigns – it shines both in the day and in the night. But, the moon continues, the higher man’s say in this world is like “a candle at noontime.” It is so hard to perceive that voice within ourselves. Externally, the political arena is dominated by the misled, who oppress us. To which G-d replies that it is only through the modesty of a Ya’akov, David, or Shmuel, that true greatness comes. Only then, by not pursuing physical power, do you hear the real strength in being more than animal. It is only in the crucible of oppression can Israel become great.

The Maharsha explains that the story is about the Jewish people and our goals vs the world at large and theirs. The Jews are compared to the moon (see, for example Qidush Levanah). Edom, the dominant power, is the sun. Why do we live in a world that seems to be dominated by Edom’s principal, that might makes right? Why isn’t holiness the dominant idea, and right make might?

So, could there be a message here about physicality getting in the way of our ability to emulate Hashem?

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